Tractor Man

In There Is Business Like Show Business* on Radio 4, Will Young (yes, I know, bear with me) examines the intriguing world of Industrial Musicals — lavish and complex musical theatre devised in the post-war years by corporations to play as informative, entertaining and supposedly morale-boosting features within trade-conventions — mainly to private audiences comprising of corporation staff. It cites examples such as ‘Tractor Man’ — a whole musical devised around the benefits of productivity enhancing Ford Tractors — as examples of a time when corporate budgets (and optimism in the power of consumerism) were at an all-time high, and provides an interesting insight into a very different way of thinking about brands, design and marketing — one which manages to be simultaneously sinister, nieve, and endearing, in a nostalgic kind of way.

I was interested in this as lately I’ve been reading a bit about Fordism and Post-Fordism — the influence of mechanisation on our way of thinking about the world, and the subsequent paradigm shift to a more ‘flexible’, ‘knowledge’ based economy. If you’re interested in exploring this more, this book is a good starting point (in an art and design context). I’ve also really got into this dictionary of ‘Critical Theory’ lately**, and have found it to be a handy route in to a lot of the phrases, terms and people that crop up in articles, discussions etc, but which I know nothing about. There’s a clear and easy to understand definition of Fordism and Post-Fordism in that.

* Available to listen again till Saturday.

** Realise that for the ‘haters’ out there, it’s going to be difficult to decide whether to ‘disrespect’ me for promoting a Will Young radio-show, or touting a dictionary of Critical Theory.

*** The clip used to illustrate this post is not really from the ‘golden era’ of Industrial Musicals – its from a slightly later period, and therefore lacks the production values (and budget) of some of its predecessors. But it was one of the few clips I could track down online. It was made by Allied Chemicals, and this ‘number’ is ‘The Great American Consumer’, from Seein’ the Light, 1978.

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